Circadian clock and temporal meal pattern

Med Rev (Berl). 2022 Sep 5;3(1):85-101. doi: 10.1515/mr-2022-0021. eCollection 2023 Feb.


The central circadian clock in the brain controls the time-of-the-day variations in acute meal responses, with a low glycemic response but a high satiety/thermogenic response to meals consumed at waking compared to other time points. Consistently, studies show that consuming a significant proportion of calories, particularly carbohydrates, in breakfast is beneficial for the chronic management of obesity and its associated metabolic syndrome, compared to consuming identical meals at dinner. Conversely, breakfast skipping or/and late dinner can have unfavorable metabolic outcomes. It remains controversial how meal frequency affects metabolic health. In contrast, irregular meals, especially irregular breakfasts, show consistent adverse metabolic consequences. Time-restricted feeding (TRF), with all calories consumed within less than 12-h per day, can improve metabolism and extend lifespan. A major component of TRF in humans is caloric restriction, which contributes significantly to the beneficial effects of TRF in humans. By comparison, TRF effects in rodents can be independent of caloric restriction and show day/night phase specificity. TRF could alleviate metabolic abnormalities due to circadian disruption, but its effects appear independent of the circadian clock in rodents. Understanding neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying clock-mediated metabolic regulation will shed light on the metabolic effects of temporal meal patterns.

Keywords: cardiometabolic; circadian rhythm; daily variation; diabetes; meal response; suprachiasmatic nuclei.

Publication types

  • Review